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Atlanta newspaper threatens Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros. with defamation suit over Richard Jewell

Photo: Warner Bros.

Last week, we reported that Olivia Wilde had responded to some of the critics of Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell by saying that a lot of the backlash against her character was based around a sexist refusal to accept female characters who aren’t necessarily meant to be likable. The movie is about the real-life story of the eponymous Jewell, a security guard who helped save people from a bomb at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics but was later vilified by the media when it came out that the FBI was considering him as the lead suspect in the bombing. Wilde plays real-life journalist Kathy Scruggs, who has since died, with the movie inserting a—reportedly wholly manufactured—sequence where its inferred that she slept with a source in order to get a tip about the FBI’s investigation into Jewell.

Wilde’s take was that it’s unfair for a female character to be singled out for doing a morally questionable thing when male characters in the same movie aren’t given the same scrutiny, but the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (where the real-life Scruggs was employed) had objections that went beyond how audiences feel about the character. Last week, editor-in-chief Kevin Riley released a statement saying that the movie’s implication about Scruggs was an “offensive and troubling” accusation with “no evidence that [it] ever happened” in real life, and now the paper is threatening Eastwood and Warner Bros. with defamation lawsuit. According to Deadline, it has accused the filmmaker and the studio of being on a “path to severely tarnish the reputation of AJC.”

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The letter that AJC sent to Eastwood and Warner Bros. (via hotshot Hollywood attorney Marty Singer) says that it is “the height of irony” that a movie about the media “engaging in constitutional malice” to defame an innocent man is also (allegedly) “engaging in constitutional malice” in what it is implicitly accusing AJC and Scruggs of doing. It also demands that the studio release a public statement admitting that some aspects of film “were imagined for dramatic purposes” as well as add a “prominent disclaimer to the film to that effect.” It doesn’t sound like Eastwood or Warner Bros. have responded at all.

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